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George Washington University Professor Wins Guggenheim Fellowship

Author, essayist Gayle Wald will spend the summer working on her book about the groundbreaking PBS show Soul!

April 20, 2012



WASHINGTON – Gayle Wald, professor and chair of the English Department in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, has won a Guggenheim Fellowship.

“The Guggenheim is supposed to award past achievement and future promise, so that's humbling,” Dr. Wald said. “I'm also humbled because I know so many excellent people who deserve such recognition. So to be singled out is amazing.”

The John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation awarded its prestigious fellowships to a diverse group of 181 scholars, artists and scientists in its 88th annual competition for the U.S. and Canada. Appointed on the basis of prior achievement and exceptional promise, Dr. Wald was selected from a group of almost 3,000 applicants.

Dr. Wald teaches courses on African American literature, popular music, and U.S. culture. In addition to Shout, Sister, Shout!, Dr. Wald is the author of Crossing the Line: Racial Passing in 20th -Century U.S. Literature and Culture (Duke University Press, 2000) as well as numerous essays on music, culture and literature. She received her B.A. in English and French from the University of Virginia in 1987 and her Ph.D. in English from Princeton University in 1995.

She was informed of her selection by noted poet, Edward Hirsch, president of the Guggenheim Foundation.

“It was exciting to get the news and exciting to get it from a poet I admire!” she said.

Dr. Wald’s fellowship begins this summer after her term as English department chair ends where she’ll be working on a book titled “It's Been Beautiful”: Soul! and Black Power Television, which is under contract with Duke University Press. The book tells the story about the groundbreaking PBS show Soul!, which aired for five seasons beginning in 1968. The show was significant as a showcase of black performing arts (music, poetry, dance, drama, etc.) and as a cultural production that attempted to educate and inspire its audience. It was radical for being explicitly aimed at black audiences although other viewers were always welcome.

“The fellowship is an incredible affirmation of my work on Soul! The Guggenheim application is different from other fellowship applications because, in addition to a detailed description of a project you intend to work on, it asks for a "career narrative." So one of the challenges and pleasures of the application is thinking about how your current research fits into an overarching narrative of your career as an artist or scholar.

“The Guggenheim means the opportunity to devote myself full-time to writing and research. This is an incredible gift to humanities scholars, who typically have to juggle major writing projects with teaching and service.”

This is the second time in two years in which a Guggenheim Fellow came from GW’s English Department. In 2011, Jeffrey Cohen, professor of English and human sciences and director of the Institute for Medieval and Early Modern Studies, received the honor.

“This is extraordinary recognition of Gayle Wald’s scholarship in literature, music, and American culture,” said Peg Barratt, dean of Columbian College of Arts and Sciences. “The Guggenheim represents the best of the best in achievement and promise, and we are excited that another member of our faculty has been signaled out to receive this prestigious fellowship.”

About George Washington University
In the heart of the nation’s capital with additional programs in Virginia, the George Washington University was created by an Act of Congress in 1821. Today, GW is the largest institution of higher education in the District of Columbia. The university offers comprehensive programs of undergraduate and graduate liberal arts study, as well as degree programs in medicine, public health, law, engineering, education, business and international affairs. Each year, GW enrolls a diverse population of undergraduate, graduate and professional students from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and more than 130 countries.

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